Summer heat can be more than uncomfortable; it can be a threat to your health, especially for older adults and children. The combination of heat and humidity in the summer months can be downright uncomfortable and even dangerous. Whatever your age, don’t let the summer heat get the best of you.
There are three forms of heat illness, each with its own distinct symptoms. It is essential to treat heat illness as soon as possible. If you are feeling any of the above symptoms, ask for help. If you suspect someone nearby has any of these conditions, follow these first-aid suggestions:
Heat cramps are severe muscle spasms in the back, stomach, arms and legs, which are attributed to the loss of body salt and water during periods of heavy perspiration. A person suffering from hear cramps shouldbe moved to a cooler area and provided with water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages. Follow up with a medical examination.
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person cannot sweat enough to cool the body – usually the result of not drinking enough fluids during hot weather. It generally develops when a person is playing, working or exercising outside in extreme heat. Symptoms include the following:
- Dizziness, weakness, nausea, headache and vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Body temperature rising to 101°F
- Sweaty skin
- Feeling hot and thirsty
- Difficulty speaking
A person suffering from heat exhaustion must move to a cool place and drink plenty of water to avoid heat stroke—an even more severe heat-related condition.
Heat stroke is the result of untreated heat exhaustion that has the following symptoms:
- Absence of sweating
- Unawareness of thirst and heat
- Body temperature rising rapidly to above 101°F
- Confusion or delirium
- Possible loss of consciousness or seizure
Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that must be treated quickly by a trained professional. Until help arrives, cool the person down by placing ice on the neck, armpits and groin. If the person is awake and able to swallow, have them drink a small glass of water every 15 minutes or until help arrives.
The risk of heat illness increases with age, poor diet, being overweight, insufficient liquid intake, poor physical condition and/or when taking medication. Never take salt tablets without your doctor’s approval. Be aware of weather conditions when you will be working outside so that you can be prepared with appropriate clothing and beverages. If you are working outside and start to feel any adverse symptoms, be sure to take a break.
Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. In a normal year, about 175 Americans succumb to the demands of summer heat.
Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.
7 Tips for Avoiding Heat Illnesses During Extreme Heat
Here are some tips for staying safe when you’re out in the heat:
- Wear loose, light-colored clothing so your skin gets air exposure.
- Shield your head and face from direct sunlight by wearing a hat and sunglasses.
- Avoid spending time outdoors during the middle of the day, when temperatures are highest and the sun is directly overhead. Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and other community facilities. Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available.
- Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun. If outside, take regular breaks in a shaded area if you’re involved in a strenuous activity.
- Drink water frequently, even if you aren’t thirsty. Experts recommend drinking at least 8 ounces every 20 to 30 minutes to stay hydrated. Stick to water, fruit juice and sport drinks while avoiding caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which can dehydrate you.
- Monitor children, pets and seniors carefully, since they can get dehydrated more easily. Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat.
- Know when to seek help! Call 911 if someone exhibits symptoms of heat stroke, such as flushed skin, rapid breathing, a throbbing headache or confusion. Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures; this is known as the "urban heat island effect."
A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for people who don't take the proper precautions.
Extreme Heat Prepararion Tips for your Home
To prepare for the next wave of extreme heat, you and your family should do the following:
- Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
- Install window air conditioners; make sure they fit snugly, and insulate them if necessary.
- Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
- Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
- Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
- Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
- Keep storm windows up all year.
- Listen to local weather forecasts so you can be aware of upcoming temperature changes.
- Be aware that people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than are people living in rural areas.
- Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.
In addition to insuring your home, our team at Marshall & Sterling is committed to helping you and your loved ones stay safe when a heat wave strikes. If you would like more information on developing a family emergency plan or building a disaster supply kit, please contact us.
This information is for general information purposes only, and is not intended as medical or legal advice.